Saturday, February 09, 2008

Tonight's Movie: History is Made at Night (1937)

HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT is a remarkable film, one of those movies that you watch for the first time and wonder how you could possibly have missed something so good for so many years.

Sensitively directed by Frank Borzage, the film tells the story of Irene Vail (Jean Arthur) who leaves her insanely jealous husband Bruce (Colin Clive) and through an unexpected series of circumstances meets and falls in love with a charming Parisian head waiter, Paul Dumond (Charles Boyer). Bruce will resort to anything to keep Irene and Paul apart -- even murder. Will true love conquer all?

Arthur and Boyer are at the peak of their stardom in this film, and they share wonderful chemistry. Surely Arthur was never more beautiful and Boyer never more dashing than in this movie. This is the Golden Age of Cinema in top form.

To tell much more would be to spoil a wonderful surprise. The movie veers from romantic comedy to melodrama to disaster movie, yet somehow despite -- or because of? -- incorporating these varied styles in one film, it all works. The fog-shrouded climax is heart-stopping.

One reviewer notes: "The unique quality of History Is Made at Night is its ability to turn on a dime, flipping from one extreme to another so that the extremes intensify each other... Borzage uses the best things about several genres here in order to make us feel their properties more intensely."

Colin Clive, who is truly scary as Arthur's obsessed husband, died shortly after the film was released. He was just 37 years old.

In 1935's IF YOU COULD ONLY COOK, Leo Carrillo plays a gangster with a gourmet appetite and Arthur is his cook. This time around, Carrillo cooks for Arthur; he plays a famed gourmet chef who is also Boyer's loyal best friend.

The excellent black and white cinematography is by David Abel and (uncredited) the great Gregg Toland (CITIZEN KANE). The score is by Alfred Newman. The movie runs 97 minutes.

HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT is available on video. This is a movie that deserves to be put on DVD as soon as possible. 

More links on this film (more explicit spoilers are included in these reviews than I have posted here): Self-Styled Siren, Reverse Shot, and Hal Erickson.

Update: More good posts at Mildred Fierce and Another Old Movie Blog.

February 14, 2013 Update: Here's an account of seeing a restored print of this film in 35mm at UCLA.

January 2021 Update: At long last, HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT will be released on Blu-ray and DVD by the Criterion Collection.


Blogger Irene said...

I'm happy to see that this video is available through the L.A. County library system. Several copies as a matter of fact. Looking forward to it.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Irene!

Best wishes,

12:02 PM  
Blogger J.C. Loophole said...

I had never heard of this movie. I would love to see it.
It seems that there is really a huge need for a Jean Arthur Signature Collection DVD set.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I couldn't agree more. This and IF YOU COULD ONLY COOK would be at the top of my list for movies which aren't yet out on DVD.

Best wishes,

5:28 PM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

I LOVE Colin Clive in this film. He is so deliciously villainous. Any movie with Colin Clive is worth watching. "History is Made at Night" is on my list of romance movies for Valentine's Day :


6:31 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I've got to watch this movie again soon. It was really special. :)

Thanks very much for the link to your list, Panavia, I enjoyed it very much. Just recorded MIRACLE IN THE RAIN within the last few weeks!

Best wishes,

6:36 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

I love this movie because it is such a rare treat to see Jean Arthur in a serious role.
Jean was generally cast in comedies, but,boy did she prove she could emote in drama. I wish she had done more. (I can only think of ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS. and SHANE.)
She really is heartbreaking as the woman with an obsessive husband who won't let her go.
Sad to hear Colin Clive died so young.

8:58 AM  

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